Hannity has occasionally participated in point/counterpoint public debates, but insisted on matching up with tabloid hosts Alan Colmes or Jerry Springer, either a far cry from someone like Amy Goodman, Thom Hartmann or Katrina vanden Heuvel. When Sean went up against Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson, the shouting and jeering audience made it a poor venue for political self-examination or critical thought on either side, exemplifying exactly the chaos and noise that today's polarized media encourages, sending people frenzied and conflicted into their mental turtle shells, or to seek out safety in numbers.
Free speech was a cornerstone ideal of the founding fathers - it separated the U.S. from the tyrannical elite-rule of almost all other previous governments. Today we have free speech, but it's in a vacuum. Before media deregulation, stations had a legal and ethical obligation to provide balance to the reasonable best of their ability. But once the legal requirement was struck down, the ethical self-policing gave way, with profit and power trumping public interest.
Gradually, the U.S. government began employing the research and marketing techniques used by Madison Avenue for maximizing profits. The same successful insight that led advertisers to "branding" was co-opted by broadcasters to encourage "loyal" listening. And politicians were not far behind, notably the contending campaigns in presidential elections, using demographic targeting, focus group testing and "passion plays" - pitches that trigger specific emotional responses.
In the 1980 election, public manipulation went high-tech, using sophisticated automated surveys and computers to analyze enormous samplings of people and extrapolate bottom line psychological triggers. From this, Reagan discovered the desire for American voters to feel as if they are in control, not the government. He peddled this perception with unprecedented success.
It was then we began to see the condescending term "the American people" in speeches, making the leap that assumes proven majority agreement. Gradually changing from "I believe the American people will approve" to "the American people will approve", to "the American people approve", we routinely hear falsehoods like this in media and politics today - completely baseless claims that project the speaker's views onto We the People. Because we're so used to advertising, marketing and legal scams today, we're all too forgiving of this trick.
When Hannity says "The American people want to win in Iraq", it's a perfect example of his deceit. In fact, the majority of Americans (and Iraqis) want the occupation ended and have for years.
Ironically, however, this works. Instead of revolting, people comply. With news and media traveling at the speed of thought, many of us simply have become "ditto heads" - itself a label that acknowledges a dearth of free thought. As half of Americans under 44 haven't read a single book in the last year, it's not surprising how few of us engage in critical thought or careful research. Businesses bank on this - hence the "fine print". It is factored in with great certainty that we will not read detailed terms and conditions. We could hardly read them if we tried as the font sizes are so tiny and visually compressed and the language written in the thickest legalese. So what do we all do? We just hit the "I Agree" button.
The continuing existence of email spam is a testament to the gullibility of America. With only a third of young people graduating high school in many large U.S. cities, it's with good reason advertisers and politicians dumb down their messages. Discerning Americans are outnumbered, and few of us will ever have access to the information we need to vote, vetted by professional journalists in editorial balance. Instead we get dueling propaganda wars, playing on our anger, fears and hopes, but not our intelligence.
Here's a quick test: If you were a broadcaster would you knowingly suppress relevent counterpoints? Would you cherrypick news stories to try to move your audience towards your politics? How would you screen calls to apportion the points of view? Should whites and minorities be represented in proportion to the actual population? What about anti-war callers?
After you have answered these questions, consider next how you might explain current events to your own children. Suddenly, many who initially felt it was okay to shape opinion using deceit and omission change their tune. This is what we need to address in our society, the acceptance of dishonesty.
A few years ago, debate raged over a proposal that profit margins should be regulated in auto sales after consumer guides published just how to play hardball with dealers, their exact cost and the minimum offer they will accept. The question was then posed, why should all the other buyers be penalized for their ignorance? Naturally dealers didn't want to lose their gravy profits, this is a basic tenet of freemarket capitalism, charging whatever the buyer will bear, or to quote Donald Trump, The Art of the Deal. But when does profiteering become exploitation?
To me, this lies in the ethics of the seller. If they can live with themselves, and the buyer chooses not to do their homework, it's fine with me. But suppose they started to badmouth their competitor. Suppose they were lying or bluffing to close a deal, for example telling buyers the prices were going to go up next week.
This is the reason for professional ethics associations - self-policing the integrity and honesty of members whose greed may blind them to the moral responsibility all Americans have to contribute positively to their communities. You may be snickering at this as naiveté today, but isn't that a statement about contemporary American society? Where Trump's The Apprentice today promotes the killer instinct to profit in spite of any ethical considerations?
In Hannity's case, he plays clips and quotes out of context, hides or misrepresents the current attitudes of our country in correct proportion. He limits or cuts short dissenting phone calls, and often refuses to volunteer known detractions to his arguments, even if only to defend himself.
So I ask his listeners to acknowledge that Hannity broadcasts intentional distortions. Yes or no? Are you the listener who knows better but finds it interesting to witness the media spectacle? Do you like to monitor exactly how the gullible are manipulated? Do you accept it because you know the full story is available elsewhere?
In terms of the strictly defined morals of Christianity, Judaism, or even karma, it's abandoning the Golden Rule - Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.